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Chaplains give inside look at Louisville hospitals dealing with COVID-19

A team of chaplains at Norton Healthcare have changed the way they work to help support staff, families and patients faced with COVID-19.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Inside local hospitals, staff are facing challenges they're never experienced before. Everyone working within hospital walls are being forced to adapt, including chaplains who are now coming face to face with the consequences of COVID-19 every day.

Norton’s Audubon Hospital is one the hospitals hardest hit with COVID-19 patients in Louisville. Still, staff chaplain Matthew Eddleman describes the mood inside as one of unity.

"With uncertainty comes anxieties but I have seen staff lean on one another, lean on us as chaplains quite a bit," Eddleman said.

Eddleman has worked at this hospital for five years and typically has his canine-companion with him, but right now Henry the yellow lab isn't allowed inside like most people. So, he's bringing #FlatHenry around to lift spirits.

Credit: Joe Hall, Norton Healthcare

"The three things we're focusing on as staff chaplains is patient loneliness, since we can't go in and visit them, secondly, family anxiety as they are thinking about their loved ones, but can't come to the hospital and three, staff support has come to the floor," Eddleman said.

One his of his biggest challenges is the strict no-visitor policy, which only allows exceptions for end-of-life care.

"That is really distressing," Eddleman said. "It goes against our caring nature, and it feels really insensitive, and so again, even though we understand the necessity of it, trying to sensitively provide that care, with those limitations has been very distressing and hard on the staff."

Credit: Joe Hall, Norton Healthcare

The hospital has started using posters, created by the chaplain staff, to help doctors and nurses learn more about their COVID-19 patients. The staff call the family to gather the information and then decorate the poster outside of the patient’s door.

"It creates a humanizing element to it," he said.

Credit: Joe Hall, Norton Healthcare

But the reality of the virus within hospital walls is one of tragedy.

"It is a difficult thing to experience. For most of us, we have a patient who we turn to comfort focus care...and a doctor or nurse may not have another one of those for a day or two or three or maybe more," Eddleman said. "We're at a time now where it’s just more frequently...more frequently happening."

Director of Pastoral Care Kelley Woggon leads the team of chaplains at all Norton facilities. She said typically she doesn’t work in the “field” anymore, but has been called back into rotation during this time. Her focus has mainly been on staff coping with the stress and anxiety brought on by the virus.

"Were thinking about it as a marathon but we don't know how many miles are in this marathon and how steep the mountains are going to be that we have to climb," Woggon said.

She was at the hospital as staff got word they would be accepting an influx of COVID-19 patients from Treyton Oak Towers last week.

"We gathered the staff in those units and had a prayer with them as we got going," she said. “It was calm, it was professional, and when they came at first it was a little trickle and then they came pretty quickly."

Woggon said the staff had been preparing for something like this—the possibility of a large influx of patients. She said they were prepared.

"It was a beautiful thing to see...the way staff just rose to that challenge," Woggon said.

Woggon reinforced what so many healthcare professionals have said over the last several weeks: there's no handbook for coping with COVID-19, so her team just stays focused on making it through.

RELATED: LIVE | Real-time updates: Kentucky sees 177 new COVID-19 cases, 11 new deaths

RELATED: Treyton Oak Towers say 2 more residents succumb to COVID-19, bringing total to 9 at facility

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